Prima Ballerina: The Tale of Lisa Macuja-Elizalde

by - August 15, 2016

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term Prima Ballerina? For Filipinos, the term usually equates to Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, who is undoubtedly the country’s most prolific ballet dancer.

Naturally gifted in the art, Lisa fell in love with ballet and continued to learn it. When she was 18, she received a scholarship from the USSR Ministry of Culture to study at the then Leningrad Choreographic Institute. The school, which is now known as the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, became the rock by which Lisa’s long and fruitful career stands today.
Lisa graduated at the top of her class in 1984. After her graduation, she joined the revered Kirov Ballet and debuted as principal ballerina in The Nutcracker, Don Quixote (with Faroukh Ruzimatov as Basilio) and Giselle at the Mariinsky Theater, a historic institution which is considered by most as Russia’s premier opera and ballet theater. As the first foreigner to become part of Kirov Ballet, Lisa became widely known all over USSR as “The Foreigner”, a title given to her by local press. Lisa wowed audiences during her debut performance, and even received a 20-minute standing ovation.

I always looked up to Lisa Macuja growing up cos she was so beautiful and graceful! I'd like to believe that almost every little girl has ballerina dreams and Lisa would have been on top of your mind when you think of a princess dancing! :)
When Lisa returned to the country in 1986, she became the first artist-in-residence of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and performed as guest artist with Ballet Philippines. In 1988, she became a principal dancer of the Philippine Ballet Theatre and performed principal roles with foreign companies in Russia, the United States, Cuba, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia.
Realizing the need for an institution that will better promote ballet in the Philippines, Lisa, together with her partner, Osias Barroso, and ten other young dancers, founded Ballet Manila in 1995. Guided by their vision of bringing ballet to the people and the people to ballet—and thanks to their strict devotion to the Vaganova Academy style of dancing—the institution quickly rose to fame and is now widely considered as the Philippines’ foremost ballet company, performing in sold out shows in some of the most prestigious venues in Russia, the Unites States of America, Scotland, South Korea, China, Cambodia, Japan, England and Ireland. 

Today, Lisa has retired from performing full time but still serves as the Artistic Director and Chief Executive Officer of Ballet Manila, which is opening their 21st season in August. She also owns The Lisa Macuja School of Ballet Manila, and continues the mission to make ballet more accessible to everyone.
For more information, visit: :)

Artsy Ava

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